2016, year in books

As a part of my last year’s resolutions, on the January 1st I committed myself to finish 20 books this year. And Yay! I did it! 

Cool thing is that in this year I read more books in English than in the rest of my life before (5 in 2015, 3 in 2014 and only a couple before that). Some of them are pretty short, but on average they are of a decent length. Many of them are popular, but few are surprisingly undiscovered. Here is what goodreads tells me:

Here are few words about each of them:

The Education of a Poker Player” — in this book cryptologists Herbert Yardley, who founded US black chamber (predecessor of NSA), guides through his life experiences and teaches subtleties of a poker game.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” — China have long been of a big interest to me. This book helped me to gain a bit of insight about its today’s society, role of party, culture with a bit of deeper historical perspective. Author recalls his memories and conversations with many people from different backgrounds in China, which forms very tranquil and rich narrative.

The Lessons of History” — this book is a collection of observations regarding biology, social order, economics, religion, moral. If we could say few things about each of them, what would they be?

Brave New World” — widely known masterpiece that became classics of modern literature.

The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life” — with innate to academic world love to detail and clarity author describes origins of life. It is certainly filled my gap in this part of biology. But what is more, I found it interesting how author brings physics and biology together and goes into details of evolutionary process.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances” — collection of short, a little bit scary and disturbing stories from Neil Gaiman. These elegant stories were like a breath of fresh air in the midst of predictive, worn-out plots we see often in TV or novels.

Sphere” — very pleasant Sci-Fi in the best traditions of the genre.

High Output Management” — in this fundamental book Andrew Grove, the guy who made Intel, US semiconductor industry, and the Silicon Valley itself back in the day, talks about how to be a Great manager. We are all managers of a sort — we manage our own lives and people around us. I find it uttermost useful and insightful.

The Machine Stops” — another short Sci-Fi that pictures over-reliant on tech society.

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker” — true story from the O.G. hacker who elevated social engineering up to an unimaginable level. Reading this book was comparable to watching Hollywood Action movie that makes your heart pump faster, but with a big difference — the story here is real.

Daemon” — (if you are involved in software world — yes, it is that daemon. background process in your OS). What if highly autonomous, self-healing, distributed, and resilient program runs wild. How bad it could be? On the bigger scale, tech described in this book blurs border between highly advanced man-made tools and intelligence. Cool thing — folks from Google were consulting author about tech :)

Freedom™” — second part of Daemon. Now whole society is going through rapid changes and being re-shaped by tech. Is it good or bad? This book reminds how dramatically society can be changed by tech.

Outliers: The Story of Success” — this books is very popular nowadays, I see people reading it in London underground and in coffee shops. Without going into details, in this book author tries to find common patterns behind stories of success. No wonder this book is so popular :). It is a combination of luck, hard work and environment. What surprised me the most is role of environment and culture, which I tend to underestimate in favor of other factors.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” — aesthetically beautiful passages about other worlds and outer space. Imagery that you picture while reading this book is comparable to ones from best Sci-Fi (in my case — Interstellar), but it is real and goes in hand with our best understanding of physics. Interestingly, few times you can even see glimpses of technology that might come only in decades (i.e. today) like rise of A.I. enhanced tech and VR. And all these has philosophic foundation that sees us as travelers, explorers and defines a new frontier in space.

The Last Lecture” — there is a heart-breaking story behind this book, which made me curious about its content. It is a collection of advices reflected in life story of a man that happen to be in very unfavorable conditions. There are definitely some good ideas here, but to me it was more about understanding how he thinks under such circumstances. It is one more reminder for all of us think about what really matters.

The Man in the High Castle” — what would our world looks like if history turned other way in WWII? The plot in the book goes closely to the TV Show. However, I find later better developed with richer and more interesting narrative.

Utopia” — very old book, really, published in 1516 in Latin. It is mix of fiction and philosophy about social structure and politics about imaginary society. It is where term “utopia” is originated.

Thinking, Fast and Slow” — despite it sounds like a cheep motivational book. Believe me, it is very far from that. This work is written recently by Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics laureate Daniel Kahneman. It is like a comprehensive course on psychology and cognition have been compressed into a book. Yet, it preserves good writing style. It also has many references to economics and statistics. If you are familiar with books by Nassim Taleb, you will find here many related ideas. The core concepts in this book change the way how you understand human behavior and inner workings of our mind.

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy” —just like in “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, Cathy O’Neil talks about issues that require public attention, but on different front — big data usage in big companies and government.

Bushido: The Soul of Japan. A Classic Essay on Samurai Ethics” — this is another old book published in 1900. It is one of the best essays on the traditional Japanese culture and the place where Bushido was introduced to Western world. It is one of the works that initiated such prolonged interest in Japanese and Oriental culture, so I was eager have a look into it myself.

Looking forward to what I will learn in years to come!